Interview: Recognizing Mexican Contributions to WWII History

school the aztec eagles builtThe School the Aztec Eagles Built: A Tribute to Mexico’s World War II Air Fighters, which comes out in November, is the story of Mexico’s Air Fighter Squadron 201, also known as the Aztec Eagles. After two Mexican oil tankers were torpedoed by German U-boats, Mexican president Ávila Camacho sent the Aztec Eagles to the United States to help fight. One of the last requests of Squadron 201 crew member and former schoolteacher Ángel Bocanegra was to have a school built in his small hometown.

In this interview, author Dorinda Makanaõnalani Nicholson talks about why it was important for her to share the history of the Aztec Eagles and the role they played in World War II.

The School the Aztec Eagles Built teaches readers about a little known part of World War II history. Given the current political climate and calls for “building a wall,” this book is as timely and important as it is at providing a window for readers to learn about Mexico and its culture. What would you tell people who say this part of history isn’t important?

“Wow, Mexico helped us in WWII? I’ve never heard that story. What did they do?” These are questions I am always asked when I share the storyline.

The contributions of Hispanics were even ignored by historian Ken Burns. When his WWII series was released without any acknowledgement of the Hispanic contribution, he had to go back and include them. He had included other racial groups such as Black and Japanese Americans.

With Spanish being the most spoken language in the world and with Hispanics and Latinos being the fastest growing demographic in U.S., the importance of our Hispanic friends to the south and within our borders has never been more important, and the time is now.

The book also highlights former schoolteacher and Aztec Eagle crew member Ángel Bocanegra. Ángel asked Mexican President Camacho to build a school as a request before going to war. If you could make one request of President Obama, what would it be?

I would ask the President to continue to encourage our students to stay in school and emphasize the importance of the need to complete as much education as possible.

aztec eagles spread 1
photo spread about discrimination from The School the Aztec Eagles Built
While growing up in Hawaii, did you read books with diverse content? What were some of your favorite titles?

Seems funny to me now, but growing up in Hawaii, I wanted to know what it was like to be a girl in the Alps. I loved the book Heidi and read it over and over. I wondered what it would be like to live where it was cold and the mountains had snow most of the year. So when I finally got to visit Switzerland as an adult I was thrilled to see that the cows actually had bells around their neck.

Learn more about The School the Aztec Eagles Built here.

Dorinda Makanaonalani NicholsonDorinda Makanaõnalani Nicholson was born in Hawai’i and was an eyewitness to the attack on Pearl Harbor when she was six years old. She believes it is her mission to bring World War II history to life for children. Her works have received starred reviews and awards, including the IRA Children’s Book Award for nonfiction, Benjamin Franklin Award, and ALA Notable. The School the Aztec Eagles Built has also garnered an SCBWI Book Launch Award. In addition to being a writer, Nicholson is a Missouri Humanities Council member and an avid hula dancer. She and her husband live in Raytown, Missouri.